For decades, doctors have told us to eat a low-cholesterol diet to prevent heart disease. Thanks to this lovely picture and article, eggs have been vilified because they’re high in cholesterol.
Does cholesterol even increase heart disease risk?
If it does, should we eat a low-cholesterol diet?
What is Cholesterol anyways?
Cholesterol is a waxy, steroid (fat) that our body produces because it’s essential. Without cholesterol, you’re dead. It is found in every single cell in your body…
- to help maintain cell membranes
- is a precursor to vitamin D – you need cholesterol to have adequate vitamin D levels!
- protects the brain to maintain memory and prevent depression
- helps digest fat
- makes hormones for blood sugar regulation and sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone)
The “cholesterol” blood test is actually a measure of the lipoproteins that carry cholesterol. LDL is called the “bad” cholesterol, and HDL is the “good” cholesterol.
What most blood tests don’t tell you is what type of LDL you have. Different size LDL particles have been found, and not all are associated with heart disease. There are small, dense LDL particles, and on the opposite spectrum, large, fluffy LDL particles.
Pattern A is mostly large, fluffy LDL particles and are thought to be benign for heart disease. This is the healthy pattern.
Pattern B is mostly small, dense LDL particles, which IS a risk factor for heart disease. It usually comes coupled with low HDL and high triglycerides as well (also risk factors). These little guys can become oxidized and lead to atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries.
Just having a high LDL level does not mean much. Look for high triglycerides as well, which may indicate pattern B and an increased risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol and Diet
First off, eating more dietary cholesterol has not been linked to higher blood cholesterol. Eating eggs is not going to clog your arteries like originally suggested decades ago.
In fact, a new study showed improved lipid panels (increased HDL and decreased triglycerides) when eating 3 whole eggs daily. I don’t need any convincing about the nutrient-density of the powerful egg, but it’s always great to see these studies out in the public eye.
However, diet may influence what LDL pattern you are.
In a pretty remarkable study, one doctor was able to induce pattern A (the good one) by feeding people a diet high in saturated fat from dairy (full-fat cheese and butter). Let me repeat that: butter and cheese (saturated fats) lead to a healthier form of LDL.
My favorite cheese.
He was also able to switch people from pattern A (good) to pattern B (bad) by feeding them refined carbohydrates in the form of white flour and sugar.
I’m going to take a big guess that a most Americans are pattern B given that we consume exorbitant amounts of refined carbohydrates and especially sugar found in all our favorite foods (crackers, chips, ice cream, pizza, bagels, bread…) and hidden in most processed foods.
If you’re wondering, Americans consume 22 tsp of sugar everyday, and children (!!) consume 32 tsp per day. Maybe we should replace those breakfast cereals with eggs in real butter.
Eat Your Cholesterol
Sources of cholesterol are mainly animal fats, including egg yolks, dairy products (butter, cheese, yogurt), shrimp, liver, shellfish (oysters, mussels, clams).